In the minds of most, Texas-born Lyle Lovett is the odd-looking, sweet-sounding voice of a very distinct brand of country music.
Blending the high, lonesome sound of traditional music with his definitive, quirky style, Lovett has earned a faithful following courtesy of six critically-acclaimed albums, even as the ever-growing world of country radio consistently turns its back on him.
But to others Lovett was the Beast to actress Julia Robert's Beauty, as the fleeting couple was so unjustly referred to in the press after their marriage was announced.
For the observant, Lovett's Texas connection will probably be apparent as well. He graduated from Texas A&M with degrees in both journalism and German and still lives in the Lone Star State.
"I have to travel to work a lot of times, but I've lived here all my life," said Lovett from the offices of The Daily Cougar, one of his many stops during a day-long press tour last week. "My mom's family has been here since the 1840s. I live in the house my grandfather built in 1911, so it's home to me. I have a large extended family."
Those really in the know may have also read up on another, closer Lovett connection.
"Actually, I went to kindergarten at UH," said Lovett. "There was a kindergarten here. I don't know if it was primarily for faculty or for students here who had children. My parents both went to UH, actually worked and then went to night school. I remember both of their graduations."
What many haven't realized, though, is that Lovett has been amassing an impressive string of credits via another field of entertainment - movies.
His latest project, opening exclusively Friday at the Landmark Greenway Theatre, is The Opposite of Sex, a crackling comedy that follows the gleefully evil adventures of Dedee Truitt (a wonderful Christina Ricci). She's a teen vamp that makes Lolita look demure.
"The reason I wanted to do The Opposite of Sex was the writing," said Lovett without hesitation. "I read the script, and I just thought it was really well-written."
In the film, Lovett plays Indiana Sheriff Carl Tippett, a shy, reserved man who unwittingly earns the affections of Lisa Kudrow's character in the film.
"It was more the sheriff helping out his friends on his personal time," said Lovett. "There were a couple of scenes where I'm wearing a uniform, but I never had to learn any kind of police lingo or hang out down at the station."
After reading the juicy script, Lovett was convinced it was something for him.
"I was familiar with some of the movies Don Roos has written, like Single White Female, Boys on the Side and Love Field, but I didn't know him beyond that, and I read the script, and I thought, 'I'd love to meet with him. I hope I can be in it.'
After arranging a meeting through his own agent with Roos, who makes his directorial debut with The Opposite of Sex, Lovett was offered the part without an audition.
Taking on the challenge of acting was a trial in itself, but Lovett was also thrown into a seasoned acting pot that not only included Ricci (The Ice Storm, The Addams Family) and Friends' Kudrow, but also Martin Donovan (The Portrait of a Lady, Hollow Reed) and Johnny Galecki (Roseanne, I Know What You Did Last Summer).
"It's always a challenge to me. I always feel like a new kid on the block because I've really acted just a few times," admitted Lovett. "To work with really seasoned, professional actors, it's thrilling in a way because they're so good that they make you better. And the other thing is like when you're a fan of somebody, just to get to meet somebody that you're a fan of is exciting. But to get to work with them, to work that closely with them (is wonderful)."
Lovett praised co-star Kudrow with being extremely helpful and making him "feel like a real actor."
"She was amazing to work with. And I thought what she brought to this character is so different from what she normally does. Lisa's so smart, and getting to know her, you sort of see all of her personality. But if you're only familiar with her from watching Friends or movies like Romy and Michelle, you don't see all there is to her. This film I think will help to sort of round out people's idea of her."
Perceptions of Lovett will undoubtedly also be rounded out by his burgeoning acting career, which has included a part in Angelica Huston's acclaimed directorial debut, Bastard Out of Carolina, and roles in three films from Robert Altman: The Player, Short Cuts and the fashion fiasco Ready to Wear.
"I enjoy doing it," said Lovett. "Playing music is my real job, but the acting stuff that I've gotten to do - to work with Robert Altman, to work with Angelica Huston in the first film she directed. She was also very strong and knew exactly what she wanted. Just what you would imagine. And very gracious and helpful. To get to work at that level and to work with great actors is so much fun."
Never one to give up a good time, Lovett has just started work on Cookie's Fortune, the latest film from, you guessed it, Altman. In true Altman-ensemble fashion, this one stars Liv Tyler, Glenn Close and wonderboy Chris O'Donnell and is being filmed in Holly Springs, Miss.
"Altman is great to work with," said Lovett of the man responsible for most of his film career. "Altman always has such a strong idea of what he wants to do. Don (Roos) was very similar in that way, because he had written (The Opposite of Sex). He knew exactly where he was going with it. He knew exactly what he wanted from the characters. The characters are so well drawn in the script."
Next up for Lovett, a new album he spent the early part of 1998 recording in Los Angeles. It's due out Sept. 21 and will be followed by an extensive tour. Music, it seems, is in this Texas boy's blood for good.